From Rotary Phones to FaceTime: Employee Communication Across 5 Generations

Some of us remember when phones didn’t have screens and FaceTime meant, well, face time. Others of us are old enough to remember when our phone’s handset was connected to a long, curly cord and you could only walk a few steps before you had to make your way back to your desk. And the rest of us, though we might not want to admit it, remember moving a dial around with our index finger and waiting for the operator to connect us to the other party.

With the passage of time, technology builds on itself, shifting our perceptions, how we do business, and how we communicate with our employees.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, for the first time in American history, there are five different generations found in the workplace. This poses a unique challenge for today’s employers. How do we effectively meet the communication styles of each generation? You can— and should—leverage technology to communicate across your multi-generational team.

To assist you in determining how to best adapt your communication strategy for your diverse workforce, let’s take a look at each generation, their comfort-level with technology, and their preferred methods of communication.


Traditionalists make up the smallest percentage of the current workforce. A determined generation, they faced down some of the greatest challenges in history and witnessed some tremendous changes in technology. Traditionalists typically prefer conventional forms of communication, such as personal letters and phone calls. While they at times struggle to adapt to the latest, fast-moving technology, traditionalists are loyal, patriotic, and adherent to the methods and hierarchies of the workplace.

BABY BOOMERS: 1946-1960

According to research published by Forrester in their annual Benchmark On the State of US Consumers and Technology in 2017, the number of baby boomer consumers who now own a smartphone has jumped up to two-thirds of their population from one-third just five years ago. As a result of growing up in a period of ever-increasing financial and educational success, baby boomers grew to be independent and self-assured—traits that characterize the way they approach their jobs. While they often embrace the latest technology, they tend to prefer communicating by phone, face-to-face, and by email.

GEN X: 1961-1980

Generation X, or “Gen-X”, is the first generation where the internet and the personal computer became part of daily life. Not surprisingly, most Gen-Xers are comfortable using email to communicate at work. Gen-Xers tend to be less formal and motivated by internal rather than external forces. They are dedicated to their workplace contributions because it matters to them, making them independent self-starters at work and at home.

MILLENNIALS: 1981-1995

By contrast to their Gen-X predecessors, millennials are collaborative and value team-centric work environments, and thrive in making use of more immediate technological tools than their older colleagues. Though millennials are often more comfortable with technological changes than members of Gen-X, both groups share a common philosophy of “living to work”, whereas baby boomers typically focus on “working to live”. The millennial preferred forms of communication include instant messaging, texting, and email.


With our youngest generation, in some ways, we have come full circle. Though they likely learned the alphabet on their parents’ mobile phone instead of a chalkboard, you might be surprised to learn that 53% of centennials prefer in-person connection over texting or instant messaging. Centennials are similar to millennials in that they care deeply about making an impact in their jobs; however, they tend to be more focused on work that will provide them with security and financial stability.

We believe a diverse work environment is the best kind of place to be. Every generation brings its own assets and preferred communication style. So how do employers accommodate the multi-generational workforce? What does this mean for your employee communication strategy? It means appreciating differences and leveraging the many technologies available.

We work with our clients to develop a year-round benefits communication strategy that’s inclusive. After all, communication is simply a means of connecting from one person to another in the moments that matter.

“Millennials Stand Out For Their Technology Use, But Older Generations Also Embrace Digital Life.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (May 2, 2018)

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We look forward to connecting with you soon.